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Distinguished Alumnus Earl K. Harbaugh

Earl K. Harbaugh; photo by Steve Williams

Earl K. Harbaugh. PHOTO: STEVE WILLIAMS

“Do you eat?”

Earl K. Harbaugh, of St. Charles, Ill., offers that simple question when others wonder why donations to agricultural science research and education are important.

The chairman and CEO of Ditch Witch Midwest, an underground-construction-equipment company based in Carol Stream, Ill., earned his bachelor’s degree in general agriculture from the College of Agricultural Sciences in 1961. He recently received the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest award Penn State gives to an alumnus.

The first in his family to attend college, Harbaugh paid for his first year with scholarships and the earnings from his first entrepreneurial venture—selling broiler chickens he raised for the vocational agriculture program at Waynesboro High School.

While at Penn State, Harbaugh worked as a chauffeur and police patroller. He was a member of the Coaly Society, an honorary society for outstanding agriculture students.

After graduating, Harbaugh worked with Penn State Extension, in agricultural chemical sales, and with the farmer-owners of a struggling John Deere dealership to revive its fortunes. In 1970, he was approached with the request to start Ditch Witch Midwest.

Under Harbaugh’s leadership, Ditch Witch Midwest grew from two to sixty employees and opened locations in Indiana and Wisconsin.

Harbaugh has kept a close connection with his alma mater. One of the ways he has given back is in creating a forum with his wife, Kay, to bring entrepreneurs to campus to speak about opportunities in agriculture.

“Farming is the purest form of entrepreneurship,” he said.